“It wasn’t great,” said U-23 USMNT head coach Jason Kreis after his young team beat a tough Costa Rican side 1-0 in the 2021 Concacaf Olympic Qualifying tournament. “It was an important result for us but I would say that we would have hoped to have gotten that result in a little bit of a better fashion. I think we would have hoped that we could have been better on the ball and made better decisions and maintained the tempo of the game better.”
In the 35th minute of play in sun-baked Guadalajara’s 60-year old Estadio Jalisco, a streaking Sammy Vines brought down a long pass from centerback Mauricio Pineda along the left sideline. Well into the Ticos’ final third, the Colorado Rapids fullback made a smooth touch, eluded his oncoming mark, and delivered a low pass that whipped across the mouth of the goal to nearly the other side of the box. The ball found an oncoming Jesus Ferreira who struck it with all his force into the back of the net for what would end up being the game’s only goal.
Throughout the game, the USA favored building their attack from the back, while Costa Rica was true to their style of play and volleyed long ball after long ball up the field to their swift strikers, who then tested the sprinting capabilities of the Yanks backline. Between the heat and near-equatorial sun, the transition from the back took some of the wind out the Yank’s sails as the match progressed.
At times, the U.S. build-up nearly came back to bite them in their colorful boots. The Ticos took a page out of the Yank’s playbook and pressed each defender as they received the ball from goalkeeper David Ochoa. There were a few tense moments when Costa Rica stripped the ball and went on the instant counterattack, only to have Oacha thwart their goal-scoring opportunities.
“It’s not surprising to me, because we were asking our team to build up. I think it may have been a different affair if we would have just said ok, every goal kick we get we’re going to take long, we’re going to push into the opponent’s half and fight for second balls, but that’s not part of our DNA,” Kreis said. “That’s not who we are. And so we asked to build up. The majority of the shakiness that I saw came through just mistakes in the build-up. So again, I think that’s just a footballing issue.
The up-and-down, high press, and fast-paced game led to only a few opportunities for both teams; however, both keepers — especially Man of the Match Ochoa — prevented eight shots on direct target from crossing the goal line. Even with a plethora of substitutes during the second half, heavy legs prevailed, and the Yanks settled into a defend-the-goal posture with as many as five backs supporting their valiant keeper.
“Part of guys not playing matches is that it’s not just about fitness, it’s also about their touch on the ball,” said Kreis during the post-game press conference. “So I felt that the majority of what Costa Rica did to hurt us was in transition when we gave the ball away very cheaply.”
Needless to say, Team USA will take their labor-intensive victory at 5,000+ feet, catch their breath, and prepare for another must-win match this coming Sunday evening against the Dominican Republic. Los Quisqueyanos will be looking to rebound from their lopsided 4-1 defeat to a well-organized, fast-paced, and high-pressure Mexican team on March 18.
Their next match is scheduled for sundown in historic downtown Guadalajara. A convincing win over the Dominican will vault the Stars and Stripes into a very strong position to advance to the tournament’s semifinals set for March 28.